Lymphedema management in head and neck cancer

Curr Opin Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2010 Jun;18(3):153-8. doi: 10.1097/MOO.0b013e32833aac21.


Purpose of review: Head and neck lymphedema (HNL) is a common and often debilitating cancer treatment effect that is under-researched and ill defined. We examined current literature and reviewed historical treatment approaches. We propose a model for evaluation and treatment of HNL used at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center (MDACC) for patients with head and neck cancer (HNC).

Recent findings: Despite the morbidity associated with HNL in patients with HNC, to our knowledge, no article has been published within the past 18 months whose primary focus is HNL. Eight publications included HNL but only as a secondary focus related to treatment effect, risk of dysphagia, prognostic indicator of underlying disease, and quality of life. A potential benefit of selenium treatment to reduce HNL was reported.

Summary: This article highlights the recent literature regarding HNL in patients treated for HNC. Although HNL is reported as a potential complication of HNC treatment, no clear definition of the disease or its management are published. Our early experience using an objective evaluation and treatment protocol holds promise for a better understanding of HNL in patients treated for head and neck malignancy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antioxidants / therapeutic use*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / complications*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Lymphedema / drug therapy*
  • Lymphedema / etiology
  • Lymphedema / pathology
  • Quality of Life / psychology
  • Selenium / therapeutic use*


  • Antioxidants
  • Selenium